Latest Developments, September 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Françafrique lives
Le Figaro reports that France’s involvement in the looming international fight for northern Mali may go beyond the “logistical support” discussed by the country’s defence minister:

“About 100 members of the French special forces have already been deployed to the region. They should receive reinforcements shortly, most notably from Navy commandos. French assistance also includes naval patrol aircraft, which gather intelligence, and a surveillance system based in Niger. The plan, from Paris’s perspective, would be to assemble an action force of several hundred troops to reconquer northern Mali, which has been occupied for several months by armed Islamist groups.” [Translated from the French.]

Liberalizing Egypt
Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Nick Dearden argues that Western media portrayals of Egypt “through the prism of political rights versus Islam” ignore the potential impacts of policies being pushed by organizations such as the International Monetary Fund:

“The IMF says it has changed its ways since working with [former Egyptian president Hosni] Mubarak to restructure the Egyptian economy in the 1990s, and won’t ask for many conditions this time around.
However, many people remain sceptical about the IMF’s agenda – privatisation, indirect taxation, removal of subsidies (many of which are corrupt, but some of which do genuinely support the poor) and an economy based around exports. As one government insider said last week: ‘In Egypt, we call privatisation what it is – stealing.’ A propaganda campaign aims to convince Egyptians that ‘there is no alternative’.

‘The question is not whether to take a loan, but who will run this country for the next five years,’ Amr Adly from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told an anti-privatisation conference in Cairo. He’s right because the IMF’s plan is to extend and promote new loans to Egypt so that it can continue to pay (rather than question) Mubarak’s debts, and use this influence to impose a whole host of liberalisation policies.”

Oil spills
The Observer reports that Shell’s efforts to clean up a pair of oil spills in Nigeria’s Niger delta are described as “totally amateurish” in a new assessment:

“Shell, which made £19.1bn profit last year, accepted responsiblity and pledged to fully restore the damage done by spills from its rusting pipelines near the Ogoni village of Bodo in 2008.
But an assessment has found only small pilot schemes were started and the most contaminated areas around Bodo and the Gokana district of Ogoniland remain untouched. The impoverished Ogoni fishing and farming communities say they still cannot return to work and have received no compensation. They have accused Shell of applying different standards to clean-ups in Nigeria compared with the rest of the world.”

Carbon controls
Reuters reports that the US Senate has voted unanimously for a bill meant to ensure the country’s airlines will not have to pay for the carbon they emit on European flights:

“The bill increases pressure on the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to devise a global alternative to the EU law.
Connie Hedegaard, the European Climate Commissioner, said on Saturday that while the bill encourages the United States to work within the U.N. organization for a global deal on aviation emissions, she is skeptical that Washington will accept such a deal.
‘It’s not enough to say you want it, you have to work hard to get it done,’ she told Reuters on Saturday. ‘That means that the U.S. needs to change its approach in ICAO and show willingness to actually seal a meaningful global deal that will facilitate action.’ ”

Exclusive growth
The Globe and Mail reports on the uneven benefits of a Swiss-owned sugar plantation for nearby communities in Sierra Leone:

“The 700 villagers [in Lungi Acre] have been boxed in by the Swiss project, their huts surrounded by the vast plantation. Rice and cassava fields were bulldozed, and people were left with so little water and farmland that they say they must buy imported rice in the markets. Just outside the village, a water reservoir is fenced off with razor wire, and guards patrol to chase villagers away from the sugar cane.
‘Addax [Bioenergy] is making the situation much worse,’ says Abdullah Serry, an elder. ‘There’s no water for the little land we have left. We were dependent on those lands for all these years. We depended on them for survival. Now, we rely on Addax for everything.’ ”

Bank transparency
The Tax Justice Network argues it would be “a disaster” for Italy, Belgium and Greece to sign so-called Rubik tax deals with Switzerland:

“These deals are the centrepieces of a plot by Swiss bankers to sabotage progress on a major global initiative on financial transparency, the EU Savings Tax Directive which is in the process of being strengthened.  As we noted earlier, the [Swiss Bankers’ Association] said the initiative was designed as an ‘independent counter-concept’ to prevent the global emergence of the gold standard of transparency, automatic information exchange”

America’s forgotten war
Agence France-Presse reports that despite the ongoing violence of the conflict, America’s war in Afghanistan is virtually absent from the US presidential campaign:

“ ‘To the extent that we are waging this war without a public debate, I think that is a mistake,’ said Stephen Biddle, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.
‘I understand that the economy will be a dominant issue (but) we are killing others, and suffering casualties ourselves and spending billions of dollars.’

Polls reveal that by two-to-one margins, Americans don’t think the Afghan conflict is worth fighting.
But there are no peace marches on the White House from a weary public content to ignore the war, so there is little direct pressure on politicians.”

Show me your papers
A Washington Post editorial describes as “obnoxious” an immigration law that came into force in Arizona last week and predicts its impacts will be similar to those of controversial Alabama legislation implemented about a year ago:

“There, according to a recent report by the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant advocacy group, law enforcement officers have created an ‘environment of racial profiling’ that has encouraged private citizens to discriminate and abuse people they regard as foreign. The report, based on thousands of calls to a hotline, recounted instances of Hispanics, including legal residents, who were repeatedly stopped by police on flimsy pretexts and, in some cases, subjected to prolonged roadside detentions.”

Latest Developments, February 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Perpetual growth
The Guardian reports on a new UN-commissioned study that argues the international community needs to take “dramatic action” if it wants to “avert a collapse of civilisation.”
“ ‘The rapidly deteriorating biophysical situation is more than bad enough, but it is barely recognised by a global society infected by the irrational belief that physical economies can grow forever and disregarding the facts that the rich in developed and developing countries get richer and the poor are left behind.
‘The perpetual growth myth … promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world’s problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root cause of our unsustainable global practices’, [the authors] say.”

Plundering Somalia
Inter Press Service reports on a new paper criticizing international policy towards Somalia, with one of the authors suggesting this week’s London summit on the country’s future “seeks mainly to rally public opinion around more violence, more intervention, and more counterterrorism options” rather than promoting a holistic approach to problem solving.
“[Global Policy Forum’s James] Paul said the violence-prone naval approach [to halting piracy] has not worked, because it ignores the illegal foreign fishing and toxic waste dumping that is taking place off the Somali coast.
The fishing and dumping provokes the piracy and has led ordinary Somalis to approve the piracy as a legitimate form of national defence.
But powerful members of the Security Council, notably the U.S. and the UK, have blocked any action on fishing and dumping.
‘They pretend that there is no information about the matter, even while their naval fleets are closely monitoring the movement of all ships in Somali waters,’ Paul said. ‘So much for root causes and holistic approaches. Violence is virtually the only option allowed onto the table in London.’ ”

UN responsibility
The New Media Advocacy Project’s Abby Goldberg writes about a legal petition that calls on the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti to compensate and apologize to victims of a deadly cholera outbreak thought to have been caused by UN personnel.
“If the petition is successful, it will be the first case in history in which the UN takes legal responsibility for harm caused by their personnel.

The UN must consider the legal request and how to respond, not only for Haitians, but also for the success of peacekeeping operations globally. This case is about Haiti, but it is also about the UN and a changing world. As one of the lawyers who filed the case said, ‘there is a difference between immunity and impunity. Impunity cannot be tolerated.’ The UN can, and must, do better.”

Emission friction
Oxfam’s Duncan Green is baffled by widespread international opposition to the EU’s plan to charge airlines flying in and out of Europe for their carbon emissions, given that three-quarters of the greenhouse gases taxed would come from European and American carriers.
“The main objection to the EU’s policy is that it applies to air-miles clocked up outside European airspace. But the vast majority of emissions captured by the EU [Emission Trading Scheme] scope are from EU and US operators.  By implication, if India and others genuinely want developed countries to act to cut GHG emissions it would seem against their own interest to try to block the EU ETS, because obviously the EU would never apply it just to its own carriers – so if they were to be successful they’d also prevent us doing something about the large majority of emissions from EU/US carriers.”

Re-inventing the World Bank
Former World Bank executive Ana Palacio says the debate over the US monopoly on the institution’s presidency is “legitimate,” but thinks the organization requires far more significant reforms.
“Just as reconstruction finance gave way to development lending over the course of the Bank’s history, its current focus on banking operations should be reconsidered, as the organization’s main source of added value now lies in its formidable potential as a center of knowledge and a coordinator of international policies.

Today, the international community should look for a World Bank president who is attuned to ordinary people’s growing refusal to tolerate glaring global inequalities, and who understands that development is more than GDP growth. Such a leader, regardless of his or her country of origin, will reinvent the World Bank for the century ahead.”

Universal energy
The Steps Centre’s Rob Byrne and Jim Watson highlight the argument that the world’s poor should not be required to take a low-carbon approach to achieving universal energy access.
“[Practical Action’s Teodoro] Sanchez estimates that half the world’s energy-poor could switch to cooking on sustainable biomass and half to liquefied petroleum gas. Furthermore, half could access electricity from diesel generators while the other half do so from renewable sources. If these plans were implemented, he argues, the increase in global CO2 emissions would be less than 2% above 2005 levels.
If the world takes climate change seriously, this increase could easily be absorbed by cuts in industrialised country emissions and further action to slow emissions growth in the rapidly developing countries (especially China). The cost of this up to 2030 would be about $570bn (including capacity building and institutional costs); less than 3% of the estimated global energy investments needed during the same period.”

Questioning development
And, finally, a piece from last week by the Latin American Center of Social Ecology’s Eduardo Gudynas who argues sustainability will require a profound questioning of the concept of development and a recognition of the rights of nature. 
“The social and environmental crisis is so serious that it is now time to put aside minor adjustments and reforms, and instead address the root causes of resistance to the idea of development. We must adopt an approach whereby the term ‘sustainable development’ no longer requires the suffix ‘development’. The civil society programme in Rio+20 should not focus simply on fixing the superficial problems of development: it is necessary to look for alternatives to the entire body of ideas about development.

If sustainable development strengthens its demands for change, it must abandon the traditional idea of development and thus break with the anthropocentric ethics that are characteristic of Western cultural tradition.”